Whatever your political views, belonging to a party inevitably involves compromise. If you are active in a party, you are expected at the very least to not publicly disagree with the party line, especially near to election time. If you are supporting a candidate you will not agree 100% with their views and they in turn will not agree with 100% of the views of the party. But this is not much different from normal human interactions - most things involve some form of compromise.
But with libertarians, the problems are magnified. Libertarians are generally opinionated, independent and revel in their freedom to say what they bloody-well like. They are also opposed to enforced arbitrary rules and bureaucracies. Then there are the many strands of libertarianism: Classical Liberalism, Minarchism, Anarcho-Capitalism, Objectivism, Anarchy etc. Then there are some things that some people call Libertarianism that others say aren’t, such as Anarcho-Syndicalism and Georgism. Almost every libertarian I have met is wedded to their own point on the libertarian spectrum and is certain that their view is the only correct one, and those who hold other views just need time and education to come round to the one true way.
It is therefore unsurprising that there is no libertarian party in the UK that Joe Public has heard of. It has just not been possible to have a party that enables most libertarians to feel comfortable both politically and personally.
We are trying to solve these problems with Pro Liberty; a party set up by some of the people who attend the monthly Libertarian Meetup at the Rose & Crown in Southwark, London. I am the interim leader. It’s a work in progress - and whatever we come up with will not please everyone. Indeed, it will be a mark of success if we can please even a large minority of libertarians.
I am happy to share with The Libertarian my personal view of how some of the issues raised above can be overcome.
Firstly, a party must be libertarian in terms of its own organisation and rules. This means that “leadership” and party positions should be seen as merely roles with responsibilities, as opposed to positions of power or things that must be granted automatic respect.
Secondly, there should be very very few rules. Everyone in the party must be able to exercise their freedoms to speak and do as they see fit. The only caveat, and this relates to property rights, is that they can not claim to be speaking on behalf of the party.
Thirdly, we must not prevent member from also being members of other political parties. Most other parties have a rule that states that you can not also be a member of another party. This seems unreasonable. Pro Liberty allows members to belong to other parties. However, this somewhat moot as it doesn’t have any bearing on other parties’ exclusivity rules. We have therefore introduced the “party friend” approach Their experience is exactly the same as full member – they’re just not called members. It’s recognised that this is a bit of a fudge, and we shall seek to improve it.
Fourthly, there should be no party policies or manifesto. I’ll say that again. There should be no party policies or manifesto. There can be principles - libertarian principles such as non-aggression, individual liberty and property rights, but that’s it. My view is that only candidates should have policies and manifestos. I would not expect a candidate to stand on a platform, let alone vote in an assembly, for anything that is contrary to their personal beliefs. The only requirement is that personal policies and manifestos should be approved by the party leadership team before the candidate is approved to stand using the Pro Liberty name. Provided the policies are within the broad realm of those considered libertarian, then the candidacy should be approved.
Finally, money. Membership fees to most parties are monies you are obliged to pay in order to be a member. Once paid, the member has no say in how the money is spent. This latter point is somewhat similar to how tax money is spent. And libertarians aren’t generally fans of taxes. So I am inclined to make membership fees minimal - perhaps £5, just to cover the bare necessary expenses such as postage, running a website, etc. For all other expenses, money should be voluntarily donated. If a candidate needs some money to stand for parliament, they can ask the party members for pledges towards the campaign. They can lay out their case and, if they get enough pledges, the money can be collected. If not enough pledges are raised, then they will have to fund it themselves or just take the hint - their idea or the way they put it across was not considered good enough. All expenditure should be along these lines - whether it’s candidates’ expenses, funding for conferences, a membership card printing machine, or whatever. Some type of escrow service may be needed to ensure pledges are either paid or refunded.
With all the points above, I have had one principle in mind: If we can not start and organise a political party along libertarian lines, how can we expect to persuade a highly sceptical public that a society can be run along such lines? Of course, to make the party a success also requires drive, time, some luck, strategic cleverness etc. We can improve immensely in all of these areas.
Having said all of the above, there is another reason to form a libertarian political party. Being a formally registered party confers some respectability. When issuing a press release, it is more likely to be read if it comes from Pro Liberty, than if it comes from an individual. Whether this is true or not has yet to be tested.
It is early days, and time will tell if we will have any success. The party is currently driven almost exclusively by me, with one other person helping at times. It is something I have to fit in between everything else that needs to be done such as work and family – and it often doesn’t reach to the top of the list of things to do. But I shall have more time to give to it over the next couple of months, and we shall see what happens…..
This article was written by James Rigby of the Pro-Liberty Party, their website is at http://www.proliberty.org.uk/ and they can be contacted via their mail address at [email protected].